Northumberland County Council hits back at anti-racism charity criticism

A senior Northumberland councillor and director have issued a stinging rebuke after criticism from an anti-racism charity sparked negative publicity.

By Ben O'Connell
Wednesday, 10 April, 2019, 11:30
Sue Schofield, from Show Racism the Red Card, at a recent event in North Shields. Picture by Jane Coltman

As previously reported, the local authority has decided to end its contract – which was worth £16,800 in 2018-19 – with Show Racism the Red Card (SRtRC), an educational charity which provides workshops in schools.

Chris Kamara, the former professional footballer and a patron for the charity, was among those to call for Northumberland County Council to reverse the decision to withdraw its funding, while a petition (https://tinyurl.com/yxvzdtnv) has now attracted more than 3,600 signatures.

Coun Wayne Daley

The council had already explained its decision, but at last week’s meeting of its family and children’s services committee, there was clear anger and frustration about what was seen as ‘sensationalised, politically motivated and misleading’ coverage.

A furious Coun Wayne Daley, the cabinet member for children’s services, said: “What I’m really, really upset about is the inference that this authority is racist.

“I will not allow anyone to accuse me or this authority of being racist.”

He accepted the positive work that SRtRC does, but added: “On this point, they have let themselves down and it’s very disappointing.”

However, in response, Sue Schofield, the education team manager at SRtRC, said: “We absolutely refute this and at no time has anyone from SRtRC inferred or implied that Northumberland County Council is racist.

“We also refute that our response has been politically motivated, as a similar petition was also set up in 2016 when Newcastle City Council made the decision to discontinue our funding.”

At last Thursday’s meeting, Cath McEvoy-Carr, the council’s director of children’s services, was concerned about the ‘misguided and misleading’ representation of what the council does in terms of anti-discriminatory education of all kinds, with the SRtRC contract only ever being a small part of the total package.

“We are confident that the decision we made is the right one,” she added.

Her report to councillors stated: ‘In recent years Newcastle, North Tyneside and Sunderland Councils have all discontinued funding for SRtRC workshops in their schools. Show Racism the Red Card did not seek publicity to try to reverse these decisions.’

It also claimed: ‘Since the decision was announced, some schools have been in touch to tell us that they had found the workshops to be unreliable; cancelled at short notice, late to start and that sometimes no one at all had arrived to deliver them. No school has contacted us to say that they are disappointed about the decision.’

Addressing this first issue, Ms Schofield said: “While it is true that funding was withdrawn from the above councils, both North Tyneside and Newcastle were able to identify funding from a different source. As I stated before, a similar campaign took place when Newcastle withdrew its funding.”

On the second matter, she added: “It is extremely disappointing to read this statement as we have had over 280 post and pre-evaluation questionnaires returned to SRtRC covering a three-month period which indicate that teachers are very pleased with the training and that children’s awareness of the issues have definitely improved.”

Regardless, the council’s stance remains, as outlined in the report, that: ‘We know that we can do more to reach every one of our 165 schools with this resource than spend it on workshops that reach only 13 per cent of schools annually.’

Labour’s Coun Deirdre Campbell said: “I was furious when I first saw this, I have to admit, but having made some inquiries, my temperature dropped a bit and hearing Cath, my temperature has dropped a bit further.”

The committee chairman, Coun Guy Renner-Thompson, added: “We are still funding anti-racist education to the same level, it’s just what Show Racism the Red Card were doing was poor value.”

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service